After that little incident at the adventures' guild, I received my money and headed out to do my request.
The money I had received was quite impressive. Most of it was in gold coins in leather sacks of a hundred each. I had received four of those bags along with another smaller one. Apparently just one of the divine gold coins was worth one of these sacks.
The amount felt overly convenient, but then again, it was weird that the normal coins rounded off in value compared to each other so cleanly as well, as money made of precious metals would have their value based on the value of the metals themselves, adjusted accordingly to market pressures.
If I remembered right, a silver coin from two different countries would have a slightly different value even if they were the same size and purity due to the economic and political strength of each country. But due to the constraint of of being made from a precious metal, the value couldn't deviate too much from the value of the metal itself?
There was the fact that both opium wars happened because the British Empire faced rapid inflation despite being an economic powerhouse due to silver growing scarce at an extreme rate from using it to buy tea. There seemed to even be accounts of some families using gold to pay for common goods like groceries because they ran out of silver or something.
(Starting a war for the sake of importing more tea sounds like such a stereotypical British thing, if it didn't show up in so many historical texts, I'd have thought it was just some extremely popular urban myth.)
I pulled out a gold divine coin and held it up to the sky to examine.
It was certainly bigger than the normal gold coins I had. The reflective sheen of its surface was incomparably nicer, and I could see my face in the flat parts. Both the shape and the imprints on the face were extremely precise and detailed.
While difficult to tell, the gold divine coin felt a bit heavier than the normal ones as well. At the very least, I suspected the purity to be much higher.
But aside from how nice it was and its size, I couldn't see any reason why it was worth so much. The only idea I could get was that it was considered a collector's item, and thus derived its value from that rather than for normal economic reasons.
There did seem to be a faint mana reaction coming from it, but it was really weak, hardly any better than that which I saw from the magical lamps. It couldn't even compare to the amount my bag had.
While I didn't have the ability to actually check, my guess was that the enchantment on the coin was to preserve and protect its shape and lustre.
<It really is a nice looking coin. I wonder who that is on one of the sides.>
"Who knows. It seems like these coins are really old, or at least the original country that made them was from some pretty ancient times. Do you know anything Claret?"
"I'm sorry. You used them a bit in the past to get your hands on the common coins, but that was it. Once you used a bunch to buy things, but that was for the town, not for yourself."
(The town? Is that where my predecessor set as her home?)
"Well, it's probably the face of some old king or something. Not like it really matters once nobody even knows his name."
Historians might argue that point, but for me it didn't really mean anything. It held as much importance to me as some face coincidentally showing up on a piece of burnt toast.
"Ah, it's finally getting dark now."
The sky had been slowly darkening as I walked through the road towards Firestone Mountain. Rather than waiting for the next morning like a normal person, I headed out to the surprise to the gate guards. They still let me go, as I they didn't have the authority to stop me with the only reason being that it was going to be dark soon.
So we headed out on foot and killed time until it grew dark. While the mountain wasn't too far, walking all the way was simply a waste of time, but doing much more would've attracted attention, and that wasn't sounding good with the threat of an assassin coming for me at any time.
Finally, the sun had dipped below the horizon and now I wasn't afraid to expose my skin directly to the air.
That said, I had long gotten used to wearing my hood, and felt a bit insecure lowering it. It wasn't the reason why I had been waiting for night in the first place.
After making a quick spin on the spot to confirm that there wasn't anyone within sight, I readied my next move.
"Are you on securely Claret?"
"I am, Master!"
Just in case, I put a had on her arms that she had wrapped around my neck as she hung off of my back like usual.
With the dark spirit secure on my back, I bent my knees then kicked off the ground while activating [Spirit Form]. We zoomed through the air so fast the wind buffeted against us. Or rather, it was the ambient mana that surrounded us at all times similarly to the air, as we simply passed through the physical air in our in corporeal forms.
As gravity slowed our ascent I activated [Alter Silhouette] and grew wings from my back. The new appendages stretched through the the openings in my robes and formed into a pair of bat wings. With a quick flap, we continued to rise up and accelerate away towards the mountain in the distance.
We continued our ascent until the few trees below shrunk to little dots before I levelled off and cut my rapid flapping to soar over the relatively flat lands.
As before when I first met Claret, and when I took flight for the first time, I pulled back ever so slightly on one wing, then entered a rolling dive. Spinning on my primary axis as I lost altitude, accelerating towards the ground in a corkscrew. The tall grass rushed towards me while spinning.
Alicia's telepathic scream was filled with surprise and nervousness, while Claret's had nothing but excitement while she clung tightly on my back.
Moments before colliding with the ground, a single hard flap of my wings redirected our trajectory and killed our spin as we ascended back up into the sky.
Alicia's scream transitioned into pure joy as the initial surprise of the manoeuvre faded.
Before I knew it, a full faced grin had erupted on my face. Hearing both of their joyful voices drove me to even more acrobatic manoeuvres.
Turning my body to the right, I slid into a slow lateral spin before adding a gradual axial rotation. I flew as if sliding almost sideways while the world spun around me, tracing an arc as if I was forming a spiral around the outside of a cylinder.
Wanting to go for something a bit more exciting, I pulled into a sharp climb. Rising up, up, closing on the clouds above, but rather than flap my wings or reach out to touch the misty cotton floating in the air, as the mana flow around me slowed, I inverted, half folded my wings, and entered a steep dive. I raced through the air as the light brush of mana against my cheeks grew stronger and stronger until it was like hurricane force winds trying its best to tear my cheeks from my face as the ground raced towards us.
Right before impact, I flared out my wings and gave a powerful flap, redirecting my momentum from downwards to a flat trajectory before entering another climb and back towards the waiting clouds.
After thee of such repetitions, I flared my wings heavily at the top of one arc, killing all my forward momentum by angling my body upright perpendicular to our flight. Just before all of my momentum was lost, I gave my wings a strong flap and went into a shallow dive to gain some speed before levelling off. Next, with a partial downwards flap of my wings and some small adjustments to their tips, I did an extremely tight vertical loop, going end over in only a split second.
With most of my forward momentum lost in the last few manoeuvres., I rolled my body to the left, entering a turn along with a steep dive before reversing my vertical orientation and climbed part of the way back before levelling off facing the opposite direction. Finally, I threw in a single flap to gain some speed then entered a sharp, almost perfectly vertical climb. As gravity's strength took hold of my body and bled me of my speed, I kicked my body sideways and slid to the left. By the time the atmospheric mana had stopped blowing past our bodies, I had already turned my body fully inverted. Gravity asserted its domination and I fell, the ambient mana blowing against my body as they filled my wings. Once I felt I had enough speed, I pulled out of the dive and levelled off.
In only a couple of minutes, we went through a barrel rolls to solo rolling scissors transitioning into a cobra then a modified kulbit, next a low yo-yo and finally a wingover before levelling off again.
I wove from one manoeuvre to the next with barely any breaks in between, quickly disorienting myself. I was only able to reorient myself thanks to the bright stars and the giant landmark of Firestone Mountain jutting out from the mostly flat horizon.
<Wow, that was amazing!>
"Wasn't it? Master's flying is so incredible!"
<We were always floating or flying mostly straight, even in the dungeon. I had no idea flying could be so exciting! Is this how it's like to be a bird?>
"Eh, I doubt it. Birds only fly for the same reasons as we would run, so they probably don't see it as anything special?"
"Master! You can even understand the feelings of birds? Your empathy is boundless!"
I had some pretty mixed feelings regarding Claret's praise. To have so completely missed the point. Then again, I was a little surprised that she knew the meaning of the word empathy.
(Maybe I've started to look down on her a bit too much?)
The dark spirit's troublesome nature of overly revering me had a tenancy to overshadow everything else after all.
(Or rather, I'm not the one she's revering. She's still just projecting her old master's image on me.)
That thought cast a dark shadow on my face, ruining all the fun I was just having.
<Scarlet, are you alright?>
"Did something happen Master?"
"No, I'm fine. I was just thinking about something. Let's get a move on before morning comes."
With a strong flap, we ascended again and restarted our way towards Firestone Mountain.
"Hmm…I don't really see anything standing out. How about you two?"
<Everything is so strange here I don't even know what we're looking at.>
"I'm sorry Master. I don't see any signs either."
We had arrived at Firestone Mountain and had started circling around it, our altitude a little lower than the peak.
The way the mountain had been described didn't do the actual thing justice. Calling it an active volcano felt like it was missing the point.
While there weren't any great plumes of black smoke being emitted anywhere, there was a slow but steady flow of lava exiting caves here and there. The lava slowly winded its way around the mountain before entering massive pits near and around the base. It seemed like the lava once piled along the mountain's surroundings, but at some point the built up igneous rocks had created a natural funnel that redirected the lava flow directly into the caverns below.
I tried flying over one of those pits to have a look inside, but the burst of heat as well as the terrible scent of sulphur and other less identifiable odours that reminded me of something burnt prevented me from lingering long enough to have a proper look.
Aside from that, I could see monsters of varying sizes and shapes scattered around. Some darting from caves to cracks, some wandering around without regard to their surroundings. There were even some that poked out parts of their bodies from the lava flow before sinking back inside.
Between Alicia and Claret, I was able to hear bits and pieces about each of those monsters we had found, but the lack of remarkableness aside from their habitat failed to leave much of an impression on me. Aside from that red and grey eel that was swimming in the lava flow. Apparently that was called an agnak. According to Claret, it was more like a snake rather than a eel despite its appearances and the fact that it mostly swam, albeit in lava. It fought by lunging surprise attacks from inside the lava, wrapping its body around its target, and killing it both through crushing it as well as burning it alive with its high body heat. If both methods aren't enough, then they try to pull its prey back into the lava in an attempt to drown it.
Apparently it wasn't very tasty at all, though I thought that you'd have to be pretty damn curious to even try eating something that ugly.
But we had spent quite some bit of this night searching, and couldn't find any signs of the ash wyvern. There weren't even any signs of the nest either.
Claret had described ash wyvern nests as similar to a bird's nest but made of stones, usually on overlooking a cliff face. The inside of the nest is typically blackened by soot as they use their fire magic to warm their eggs up.
But whether on steep clifftops nor in the bottom of any fissures, there weren't any indications of such nests.
A few times we peeked into some caves, but gave up when we couldn't find any physical signs any of nests mana signals or eggs.
"Hey Claret, do ash wyverns always make nests where they live?"
"I don't know for sure, but I think so. Every ash wyvern we've seen had made their nests near where they show up, unless if they need to extend their hunting grounds beyond their normal territory."
"Is that common?"
"No, I think we only heard it can happen?"
Things were sounding more and more like the information we had received was wrong. It was one thing to not be able to easily find the ash wyvern itself, but another to not find any traces of its nest.
"Is there a chance that the ash wyvern hadn't made its nest yet?"
"I don't think so. Every time we had seen ash wyverns, there was always a nest nearby. I've heard that they tend to make their nests immediately after choosing their territory. Otherwise they'd just move on."
"I see. So I guess it would be weird that we can't find any traces of a nest even if the ash wyvern had moved on?"
"At the very least, we should be able to find a charred spot with some scattered rocks nearby."
"What about the chances that the ash wyvern made its nest somewhere else, and this is just its hunting grounds?"
"…I don't think so. This mountain looks like a perfect place to make a nest. At the very least, they prefer places that are hot, but aside from this mountain, there's not really any good places to make a nest as far as I can tell."
"Do you think it could be some different sort of monster?"
That really was the only thing I could think of. The first group probably ran in a panic so they only got a glimpse of the new monster in the area. While the scout from the guild would've gotten a better look, it wasn't like they would've had [Scan] like we did. A misidentification was completely possible, and the more we searched, the more likely it was to be the case.
But even if that was what had happened, it would've been bad if I just went back to report I couldn't find it. The guild would probably consider it a failed request unless if they were able to confirm that there was no trace of the ash wyvern. It wasn't really something I wanted on my record. At the very least I'd rather find something that looks like an ash wyvern and bring that back. If it turned out to be the wrong thing, it wouldn't look as bad on me as I at least tried something.
"Can you think of any other monsters that might look like an ash wyvern that would make a nest in a place like this?"
"Quite a few. Do you want me to list them?"
"No, it's fine."
Just that alone was enough for me. It wasn't worth the effort to memorize all the possibilities and look for all their signs. It was probably just better to look for anything that looked off.
But even still, actually knowing what was off was a difficult thing in the first place, especially for Alicia and myself. Alicia was blind until she was able to see though my eyes, so almost everything was new for her to see. The sheer restraint she had been exercising was incredible. There was no doubt that the very sight of everything was amazing to her, yet she had never asked any questions or asked to look at certain things. I kinda wished she didn't hold back so much though. She was a child, so had the right to have a certain degree of selfishness, and curiosity should've been second nature.
For me on the other hand, the very concept of of things like things swimming in lava broke my common sense entirely. It wasn't like crazy things like that was new to me, but being able to distinguish things that defied my common sense with things that was unusual even for this world was close to impossible, especially in environments that was new to me like this volcano.
(But when it came to Claret...)
I turned my head and we made eye contact. A moment later, she put on an innocent, full faced smile. The very thing was so bright I had to turn away, and despite having seen it here and there already, it still managed to make my cheeks a little warm.
(She's such a weird mixed bag. Regarding some things she's incredibly competent and reliable, but for others I'd rather get help from a stray cat. Especially when it came to being objective about myself or my predecessor.)
But going back from that tangential thought, we really were having serious trouble finding any sort of wyvern or anything else that looked like some sort of similar monster or any traces of its existence. We had been avoiding actually going into any of the caves nor exploring inside of any of the canyons beyond what could be seen from flying over them, but we were starting to reach the limits of that.
Even worse, I was getting worried that morning might be arriving soon. Once it did, flying around would prove difficult as my wings would simply catch on fire, or at least feel like it. Going around with a mix of [Float] and wind magic was a possibility, but it wasn't very fast nor precise, and even worse, it took away from my concentration.
But even with all that, I was getting frustrated. No, I think we all were, not finding any traces of an ash wyvern or any other sort of monster that didn't belong in this mountain.
I was starting to get ready to land and just try searching every cave and cavern manually.
More and more, I was coming to regret accepting this request. I didn't have time to waste on such a stupid errand, even if it would've saved people's lives, my own was most important to me. Time I wasted here was time I wasn't using to get stronger, thus bringing me closer to death if and when the next assassin showed up.
I could justify using some time if it was to further one of my other goals, but this wasn't one of them.
If we couldn't find the ash wyvern by next night fall, it might be best to just to back empty handed.